Top 5 Common Car Breakdowns: How to Spot and Avoid Them

Woman looking upset after her car breaks down
A woman waits for assistance near her car broken down on the road side. Photo: iStock

According to the latest statistics, there were 69 million car breakdowns last year, causing $41 billion overall. The best way to avoid breakdowns is to learn how to spot the common ones before they happen.

There are five main car breakdowns that you should be aware of. Knowing what they are and how to spot them can help you nip them in the bud before they become a bigger problem. With the right knowledge and understanding, you can save yourself time and money while avoiding the stress and hassle of a car breakdown. 

In this article, we’ll explore the top five common car breakdowns and how to spot and avoid them. Keep reading to find out more.

Car Battery

It’s no wonder this one makes the top of the list because there are so many ways for your battery to die. A car battery will usually last three to five years before it needs to be replaced. If you see that your battery is dying quickly, there may be a problem with the battery itself. 

Here is a list of what causes vehicle battery deaths. 

    • Cold weather. Your battery’s integrity can diminish by 35% at just 32 degrees F. and can diminish by 60% at 0 degrees
    • Leaving headlights on. It never hurts to take a quick turnaround after you leave the car. 
    • Defective charging system (bad alternator). Keeping up with periodic maintenance will help avoid this. Make sure the mechanic checks the alternator. 
    • Corrosion – Periodic maintenance will take care of this.


Overheating is one of the most common car breakdowns. It is caused by air leaking into the engine and reducing the ability of the engine to transfer heat. It can damage your engine, which can be costly to repair. 

This is especially common in summer when you are driving with the air conditioner on. You can tell if your car is overheating if you notice steam coming from the front of your car or see the temperature gauge rise.

This is another instance where maintenance is important. Make sure your mechanic checks the radiator during the service.

Bad Tires 

Car tire with blisters
This bald tire has very little tread remaining. Photo: iStock

Tires can be damage through a variety of reasons. Age being the most common. Check your tires periodically. Here is a list of indications that your tires are not well:

  1. Bulges, Cracks, Bubbles, and Blisters. Any sign of these is a sure reason to start looking for a new tire.
  2. Vibrations. Yes, if you are on a smooth road, but your car is vibrating, this is a good indication that it might be coming from bad tires.
  3. Cracks on the sidewalls. It is not just the treads on the tires you should pay attention to. Look at the sidewalls and see if there are any issues.

Brakes Squeaking 

This should happen. Get it checked out. It may just need an adjustment or may be time for new breaks. Any way you look at it, it is better to be safe than sorry!

Bad Alternator

This goes back to the battery issue because a broken alternator won’t keep your battery charged. But that’s just the beginning. The alternator is responsible for keeping your electronics running. 

Things to watch out for: 

  • Dimmed headlights
  • Flickering dashboard lights 
  • Ignition warning light shows on the dashboard

Broken Head or Tail Lights

It is against the law to drive with a broken tail light. Your car must have two working head and tail lights at all times, but compared to the issues above, this most likely won’t get you injured or killed; however broken lights still due present a danger. 

With that said, you are more likely to get pulled over by the police than get into an accident. But is it worth it? They will ticket you for a non-moving violation, but in many areas, you will have 24 hours to get it fixed. 

If you live in Suffolk County, you’re in luck. You will get a voucher instead of a ticket and this voucher will actually pay for the parts that you need to fix the light, but you still must get it repaired within 24 hours.

How to Avoid Breakdowns

The best way to stay on top of your car’s maintenance. You can do this by scheduling regular maintenance appointments with a reputable mechanic. Most car brands will have a recommended maintenance schedule that you can follow. You can also use apps like CarPass to keep track of your car’s maintenance. 

Tips for Staying on Top of Car Maintenance

-Get an oil change every 3,000 miles Changing your oil regularly can prevent many issues from arising in the first place. You can also use oil analysis to check for potential issues before they happen. 

  • Have your tires rotated every 5,000 miles. Rotating your tires can help them last longer and prevent uneven wear. Uneven wear can cause you to need new tires sooner than you otherwise would. 
  • Get your car’s alignment checked every 15,000 miles. An improperly aligned car can lead to major issues down the road. If you are experiencing steering issues, you may want to get your alignment checked. 
  • Get your car’s fluids checked every 30,000 miles 
  • Fluid levels can tell you a lot about your car’s health. Things like your coolant level and the oil level can help you catch small issues before they become big problems.


Car breakdowns are a common headache that can be avoided. There are five main car breakdowns that you should be aware of. If you spot the warning signs, you can get your car checked out before they become a bigger problem. The best way to avoid breakdowns is to stay on top of your car’s maintenance.

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